It’s no secret that we have been followers of “The Global Genes Project” since our diagnosis in 2011. Meghan fell in love immediately with the denim ribbon, and their slogan, “HOPE it’s in our Genes!” That play on words stuck with her, and the ribbon gave her a good deal of connection at a time when we weren’t sure if we’d ever connect with another soul with “Cowden’s Syndrome.” The connection with the RARE Community at large carried us through those earliest days.
The end of 2011 and well, 2012, and… well, you get the idea… held some tumultuous times for our family.
Adjusting to the diagnosis was not easy. Finding balance within the labels, and the risks, and the screenings, and the surgeries, and the appointments was (and sometimes still is) a struggle. In the months when the diagnosis was at its newest, Meghan’s thyroid was called into question several times. We discovered nodules we never knew were there and learned the early risks of thyroid cancer were real, and ever-present.
She soon underwent the most horrendous of what would be 4 thyroid biopsies over the next 2 years. Scarred physically and emotionally, we began to wonder about this beast we were up against.
In February of 2012 Meghan had her 4th knee surgery for an AVM (arteriovenous malformation) in her right knee. Now convinced it’s stubborness could be credited to Cowden’s Syndrome, the fight to control it’s growth took on a whole new meaning, and we were referred for consultation to Boston Children’s Hospital.
While we balanced the screenings for Meghan, I was sent to my own set of initial screenings. Being 38 and newly diagnosed, I was in the battle full on, and I had had no idea. All the imminent cancer risks associated with Cowden’s Syndrome – except for the thyroid which often comes earlier – seem to peak right around 40. No stranger to doctors, I was trying to figure out how the diagnosis helped explain the roadmap that was my own medical history.
In March of 2012, I underwent what was to be a “prophylactic bilateral mastectomy,” to battle the 85% breast cancer risk I had with the PTEN mutation that caused Cowden’s Syndrome, and my own medical history which had already seen 7 increasingly suspicious breast biopsies. Seven days later, while having my drains removed, my husband and daughter sat in the room as the doctor announce it was a “good thing we moved when we did.” My left breast, the one that had never seen a scalpel, had 1 centimeter of DCIS, close to the nipple and clear of the chest wall. I had breast cancer. They found it by accident. My aggressive, intelligent surgeon, who I met because of my diagnosis, and really BECAUSE of my daughter had saved my life. I needed no treatment.
I left the room that day holding the two people I love more than anything. Unaware of the plans clearly in place for us, I was so filled with gratitude, and so in awe of the reality that if I had never had Meghan, I would have likely never known. And the surgeon’s words, “If we had waited till July like you had wanted, you would have been in a fight for your life,” still ring in my ears. Sometimes you have to stop the “what ifs?” and just say “thank you.”
Ten weeks later I was back in the hospital for a complete hysterectomy. A suspicious uterine polyp, enlarged ovaries, and Cowden’s Syndrome combined again for too great of a risk, and the recommendation was for surgery and quickly.
The shock on my body, the trauma to my family at this point was intense.
I had begun to scour the internet looking for places to go. I found http://www.PTENworld.com and its dynamic young moderator, a Cowden’s patient for many years. I found Facebook, and a beautiful support network there. I found a yahoo group, and a mom there who has consistently gone above and beyond for me, simply out of goodness. Finally, there were real people I could talk to.
One day that Spring I received a Pandora necklace with a pink ribbons on it. After years of advocating for my mother, a bilateral breast cancer survivor, holding the pink ribbons that belonged to me felt strange. Yet, so did the new boobs, smaller, but perkier than the old ones, and all the clothes I was learning no longer would fit quite right. So, I took comfort in that necklace and I wore it a lot.
And one day my very obsevant girl, who was 8 at the time, a few months shy of 9, asked me “What stands for me? The gold ribbon is for childhood cancer, the pink ribbon is for breast cancer, the puzzle piece is for autism. What about me? What about people like me who are dealing with this (Rare disease) every day? I NEED something mom. Not to have a thing, but for my identity.”
Stunned, as usual. I realized I had begun to heal myself, to seek comfort for myself, but I was leaving her behind.
So I happened to be retelling the story at lunch. And my teacher friend, whose husband is a jeweler, and who has a son with autism, really “got it” on so many levels. She told me she’d talk to her husband and see what was around. So I gave her a denim ribbon sticker from the Global Genes Project, and they were on a hunt. Which turned up nothing. There seemed to be no piece of jewelry worldwide to symbolize those with Rare Genetic Disorders. And, with there being over 7,000 RARE dieseases, accounting for almost 10% of the population, to us this was silly.
So my friend’s husband offered to make one. For Meghan. Because if she wanted a piece for her “identity” she should have one. So he did. It took months. And it was perfect. Absolutely perfect. And he was so generous in the donation of his time, all to light up my girl’s world.
Typical Meghan, no less that 5 minutes after she put it on, she started with, “Wouldn’t it be great Mom, if these were available all over the world, and then we could see them when we went places, and we would know the people who have, or love people with RARE diseases?’ And the conversation continued to include asking me to reach out to The Global Genes Project to try and make it a reality.
Well two years have gone by. Felix and I each wear one too. Only 3 ever made. Until recently.
There have been lots of EMails exchanged. Lots of conversations. Lots of people. Ultimately they did decide to have the necklace made, and while the decision thrilled me, I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t disappointed that they couldn’t use our friend, the jeweler. But, business decisions are what they are, and this one was not in my control. And, despite that disappointment, Meghan’s dream, her vision, is becoming reality. We received 2 samples this week, and a “THANK YOU” from the team at Global Genes! The necklaces will be on sale through http://www.globalgenes.org in the fall!
Two years have gone by.
I have developed deeper, closer “long distance” relationships with some “kindred spirits” in the Cowden’s Community – globally!
My girl has some of her own friends with Cowden’s now, spread across the world. She will be 11 soon, and is quite the young lady. She understands life on levels deeper than she should. Most impressively she understands that despite our struggles, there are many in the world who struggle in heart, mind, body, and soul. She knows that “Everyone has SOMETHING!”
This past year she organized an assembly at our school. She worked with Student Council to arrange an evening fund raiser. She partnered with a friend in her own class who has a RARE Disease. We sold T-Shirts. We received intense support from faculty, and parents and students. Every child got a denim ribbon to wear for RARE Disease Day. We sent thousands of dollars to The Global Genes Project.
She has already begun to plan for next year, and wants a much bigger fund raiser. “At a place Mom.” We can really get the word out and raise money. For The Global Genes Project http://globalgenes.org/, and for the newly founded PTEN Hamartoma Tumor Syndrome Foundation http://www.ptenfoundation.org/, another organization close to our hearts.
She has a mind that never stops. She has the heart and voice of an advocate. And this year, she was nominated for the TEEN Advocacy Award at The Global Genes Project. (If you scroll down, the teens are close to the bottom.)
Champions of HOPE indeed. So proud of her. So proud to see her name with all the others who have decided to “Do Something.”